On the path of a meaningful life

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30 June 2016

In the land of the Hobbits

Walking in the footsteps of Frodo through Hobbiton and rediscovering the atmosphere of Peter Jackson’s movies.
Hobbiton, North Island, New Zealand © Claire Blumenfeld
DISPATCH

During my three days in Rotorua, I took the opportunity to visit Hobbiton, near the village of Matamata. For any fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, Hobbiton is a must. Since it was Peter Jackson’s movies that made me want to visit New Zealand, I was not going to miss that (despite the fairly high ticket price). Meeting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, June 14, in front of the official Hobbiton store in Rotorua. While waiting for the shuttle, I appreciate the derivative objects and replicas of the films and the superb statue of Gandalf. (Ohlala, if Gandalf’s pipe was cheaper, it would have ended up in my luggage!). I take the opportunity to leaf through a book listing all the filming locations across New Zealand. A bus with the colors of the Shire (therefore predominantly green) arrives and the driver takes us to the filming location telling us anecdotes about the region during the trip. After an hour’s bus ride through the Waikato region, the village finally reveals itself at the turn of rolling hills. We pick up our guide and the tour begins. Unfortunately to avoid the theft of accessories, Hobbiton can only be visited with a guide and in a limited time. It is really not what I prefer but I have no choice.

Hobbiton, a village of Hobbits, is located in the Shire, which according to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien resembles rural England in the Middle Ages. Peter Jackson then in location in 1998 for the shooting of the Lord of the Rings and in love with his country (which I understand perfectly), finds the perfect place on the hectares of the isolated farm of the Alexander family a few kilometers from Matamata. Some discussions with the owners and signing of contracts later and the work begins in 1999. Thirty-seven Hobbit holes, the Green Dragon tavern as well as the bridge and the Windmill are built according to the preliminary sketches. With the keyword been, “ancient”. As Tolkien wrote, Hobbiton is believed to be hundreds of years old. Everything must therefore appear old enough. False lichen on the palisades, cracks in the beams … But a tree is missing above Bag End, Bilbo’s home! A nearby tree is then uprooted and replanted. But it does not have enough leaves according to the vision of Peter Jackson. Hop hop hop, nevermind, let’s order plastic leaves and let’s repainted them by hand and glued them to the tree. All this for a shot of a few seconds on the tree in question.

The visit continues, full of very interesting anecdotes on Peter Jackson’s attention to detail and the desire to translate Tolkien’s vision into reality. Perspective matters are very important, Hobbits being much smaller than humans. So there are different sizes of hobbit holes and accessories for filming needs. Each house has its own atmosphere and walking around the village and the vegetable patch amazes me. It is just like in the movies! I am treading the soil of the Shire! Big emotion in front of the house of Sam Gamgie and of course in front of Bag End and its now famous sign “No admittance except on party business”. After the Lord of the Rings trilogy is filmed, Hobbiton is half destroyed and left abandoned. The accessories are brought back to Wellington studios and the holes turn into sheep shelters! Fortunately, the success of the films led to the production of The Hobbit trilogy and in 2011, Peter Jackson and all his team land again in Hobbiton. But this time after the shooting, the set is completely preserved and tourist visits are set up to make the world discover what a hobbit village looks like in reality.

Last step of our tour, the Green Dragon tavern where a drink (alcoholic or not) awaits us. As I walk inside, the images of Pippin, Merry, Sam and Frodo dancing on the tables at the start of the first film come to my mind. Unfortunately, we must already return to the bus, our time for visiting the village is over. I leave the Shire very reluctantly. Especially since the clouds have finally cleared and the sun illuminates the superb hilly green meadows on which Hobbiton is built. Back to Rotorua, with a furious desire to binge watch all of the movies. However, I cannot help but be a little disappointed with my visit. The weather was gray and then it was much too touristy. Even in winter, like today, groups follow one after the other at lightning speed. This means little time to stroll through the village, racing to see everything and a lot of hubbub from all sides. The immersion felt a bit spoiled and as it is forbidden to enter the houses, I left with a somewhat mixed feeling railing against the price of the ticket. But the pleasure of having been able to wander around the Shire is written in my mind. It will become a great memory. 

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